Back to Kathmandu to meet up with my parents and friends. Nepal wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we are very glad we came and have had a great time with my parents – at least I did – and Riki would never say otherwise 🙂
The old folks (permission granted for use of this term) arrived a bit late due to some craziness in Doha, but we waited patiently at the hotel with some Gorkhas, our new favorite Nepali beer. We were then invited to an excellent dinner with an American/Irish family who has lived in Nepal for almost 30 years. They gave us a nice run down of how things work and the itinerary for the rest of the days in Nepal. The first morning in Kathmandu, we walked for about two hours, ending up in Thamel, the main tourist area. It isn’t terribly far from where we stayed, but there are no sidewalks and the roads are mostly dirt and not labeled on maps or signs. The taxis are pretty cheap, but you have to haggle, because the starting price is never what it should cost, like all things here. I don’t enjoy haggling, but I have been put in charge of arranging taxis because apparently I am good at it. I have no problem arguing over the rupee equivalent of $1, mostly because I know a Nepali would still be charged half as much as I am charged. And you can’t trust the meters because many of them have been altered to charge more than they should. Its a bizarre system. Everything is negotiable, except when its not.
We spent the afternoon in Patan’s Durbar Square, one of the oldest known Buddhist cities. Lots of brick buildings with cool wood windows. It is a UNESCO site and has many small streets and alleys. We ate a rooftop dinner with fried crunchy sizzling mo:mos (yes that is properly spelled). They are usually just like steamed dumplings and come in veg, chicken or buff (the menus verbatim).
The next day we went to Baktipur, a large old capital from the 1700s mostly. It is also a UNESCO site, but cars are not allowed on many streets, so it is a nice change from the chaos of the rest of the city. They also have a Durbar Square. It is rice harvesting time and the women have loads of rice spread out on tarps on every available flat space. They constantly rake it flat and then pile it up in order to dry it, all day. Then they pile it back up, cover it and do the same the next day.
Our third day, we went shopping. My parents are taking a suitcase back home for us, so for the first time, we are able to buy things! But we didn’t this day. We just looked. We went to a Tibetan handicraft center and watched women sit in dingy rooms knotting rugs on giant looms. There were some great patterns, but it did not look like fun. That afternoon, we took a short tour of a school and an intro to Nepali class. We can now say thank you, left, right, straight and water pretty well. Oh, and tasty. Luckily, many people speak English. We also met with two contacts of Riki’s family, one in a development organization and one who is a former ambassador. Both offered great insight on their country. Feeling adventurous, we stopped at the New Orleans Cafe for dinner. My dad ordered the New Orleans Chicken Basket (fried chicken with french fries) and another travel companion ordered Jambalaya (I didn’t try it, but it looked like rice with chicken in a reddish-brown sauce). Those were the only New Orleans referenced dishes, not counting the New Orleans cocktail (vodka with some type of juice). Riki had the Mongolian BBQ. I think I had curry. No Abita, and no discount for New Orleanians. We even tried to show them Riki’s driver’s license. No luck.
The next three days we had free while the old folks helped at a local school with activities and then painting. We wandered back to Patan on foot and did a little shopping. We managed to find our way back, despite there being no road signs and the maps are generally terrible. We had dinner in Thamel at a lively place called Friends Restaurant where we were entertained by some local instruments. Our third and final Durbar Square trip was in the center of Kathmandu. It was not as impressive as Baktipur, but had a lot more people (and pigeons). There is a great courtyard where the “living goddess” stays (and sometimes appears). She doesn’t walk outside of her quarters. She is carried by others. Once she reaches puberty, she is replaced by a younger girl. On our way to Thamel we stopped in a secluded Stupa square, surrounded by little art shops and some crafts stores. Riki disappeared for awhile to look at Thanka paintings and I was granted use of the camera to stalk an adorable small girl.
Best picture of the day, in my opinion. Having been in about a hundred stores selling Thanka (a form of art very common here that shows the path to nirvana mostly and lots of Buddhas), I was glad Riki had finally found one he liked enough to buy that day. We then walked to the Garden of Dreams. It is a tranquil walled space in the midst of loads of traffic and honking.
Saturday we met up with another Nepali connection, this time an artist from a remote area in the mountains. He showed us his gallery set right next to a large stupa, Boudhanath (another UNESCO site). He was then gracious enough to take us 10 minutes walking to his studio so we could see some work in progress. His work is unlike anything else we have seen in Nepal, full of movement and expression. Most paintings we’ve seen are sedentary Buddhas. We learned alot about his village and his personal goals to educate its people. It takes over a week to reach his village, it is so remote. From there we walked about 30 minutes to Pashupatinath. This is another UNESCO site, where many cremations occur on the ghats. We came in from above and could smell the burning very well. It was a bit disconcerting to see the ashes flying all around and think about what was burning below. It is all done out in the open and then the ashes are scattered in the river. We saw tons of monkeys on our way here and all over the buildings.
Our last day before flying to Pokhara was spent painting at a local school just outside Kathmandu. We joined the old folks and rolled walls all day. The school is for very young children of migrant workers, who would otherwise have no one to watch them or have to go to work with their parents. The building is a large house, so the classrooms are just the bedrooms and must be very crowded when filled with a dozen 6 year olds. There was a bit of drama as the quality of the materials was not exactly up to par with what we are used to (wobbly ladders, deteriorating brushes, watered down paint – all brand new), but we made do with what we could buy and were able to get most of the house painted.